In all the talk about the Arizona shooting victims this week, there have been two names notably absent. Amy and Randy Loughner, the parents of alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner.
Along with their son, the couple has been demonized in the days immediately following the shooting in Tucson. "Where are the parents? Are they derelicts? He was so devoted to marijuana he wanted to make it the new U.S. currency. Did anyone try to institutionalize him?" screamed Rush Limbaugh. Said one headline: "Amy, Randy Loughner Known as Isolated, 'Contemptuous' People."
You would think Amy and Randy Loughner walked into the Safeway themselves on Saturday and opened fire on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the 19 other people shot. But they didn't. No matter whether they were perfect parents or not -- and let's face it, I've never met a perfect parent, myself included -- it's time to step back and give the Loughners a break.
They're still parents. This is still their son. A 22-year-old son who stands accused of doing something unforgivable to the rest of us, but their child all the same.
Blaming the parents has become our automatic response to most tragedies in America. If a criminal acts, it must have been a flawed upbringing. But what happened to self determination? To adulthood? To expecting our kids will take the teachings of childhood and put them to good use when we set them free?
We have myriad proverbs and cliches about giving our children roots, only to then have to give them wings for a reason -- because we can only parent them for so long. At some point, they must become free to be themselves (as we are Free to Be You and Me). As my favorite Crosby, Stills, and Nash song goes:
Teach, your children well Their father's hell Did slowly go by And feed them on your dreams The one they pick's The one you'll know by. Don't you ever ask them why If they told you, you would die So just look at them and sigh And know they love you.
But it's more typical of America's push toward domineering, helicopter parenting that we neither expect nor allow our children to "pick" a dream of their own. Instead we are forever being tied to our kids' choices -- by friends, by family, by the media. It's no wonder they can't make a decision to save their lives.
Jared Lee Loughner seems to have made some serious mistakes in judgement (I say seems because he's been charged, but of course not proven guilty in a court of law). But if we blame that all on his parents, what does that say of the success of American adults? That we have done nothing on our own? That our parents must be thanked? It works both ways -- parents can't be to blame for everything their adult children do wrong but given just a modicum of praise for everything their adult children do right.
Add to this the irony that many in the Loughners' lives report the family had no trouble in the early, formative years. Randy was a stay-at-home-dad! Mom gave the good example of being a woman who worked! Friends and classmates report his downturn into psychosis didn't begin until 2006 or so -- when he was, by legal definition, moving into adulthood.
And yet, in recent days, the Loughners have been barricaded into their homes to protect themselves from reporters. They've been castigated and blamed for actions that weren't their own, and left to mourn their own dreams in silence. Amy and Randy Loughner lost a piece of their lives on Saturday too. They lost their dreams, their hopes, and their son.
Their names belong on the list of victims too.
Image via Facebook